Apollo Computer

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Apollo Computer Inc.
Industry Apollo/Domain workstations
Fate Acquired by Hewlett-Packard 1989
Founded 1980
Founder William Poduska
Headquarters Chelmsford, Massachusetts

Apollo Computer Inc., founded 1980 in Chelmsford, Massachusetts by William Poduska (a founder of Prime Computer) and others, developed and produced Apollo/Domain workstations in the 1980s. Along with Symbolics and Sun Microsystems, Apollo was one of the first vendors of graphical workstations in the 1980s. Like computer companies at the time and unlike manufacturers of IBM PC compatibles, Apollo produced much of its own hardware and software.

Apollo was acquired by Hewlett-Packard in 1989 for US$476 million, and gradually closed down over the period 1990-1997.


Apollo dn330 at Chelmsford, MA, circa 1985

Apollo was started in 1980, two years before Sun Microsystems. Besides Poduska, the founders included Dave Nelson (Engineering), Mike Greata (Engineering), Charlie Spector (COO), Bob Antonuccio (Manufacturing), Gerry Stanley (Sales and Marketing), and Dave Lubrano (Finance).[citation needed] The founding engineering team included Mike Sporer, Bernie Stumpf, Russ Barbour, Paul Leach, and Andy Marcuvitz.[citation needed]

In 1981, the company unveiled the DN100 workstation, which used the Motorola 68000 microprocessor. Apollo workstations ran Aegis (later replaced by Domain/OS), a proprietary operating system with a POSIX-compliant Unix alternative frontend. Apollo's networking was particularly elegant, among the first to allow demand paging over the network, and allowing a degree of network transparency and low sysadmin-to-machine ratio.

From 1980 to 1987, Apollo was the largest manufacturer of network workstations.[citation needed] Its quarterly sales exceeded $100 million for the first time in late 1986,[1] and by the end of that year, it had the largest worldwide share of the engineering workstations market, at twice the market share of the number two, Sun Microsystems.[2] At the end of 1987, it was third in market share after Digital Equipment Corporation and Sun, but ahead of Hewlett-Packard and IBM.[citation needed] Apollo's largest customers were Mentor Graphics (electronic design), General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Chicago Research and Trading (Options and Futures) and Boeing (mechanical design).[citation needed]

Apollo was acquired by Hewlett-Packard in 1989 for US $476 million,[3] and gradually closed down over the period 1990-1997. But after acquiring Apollo Computer in 1989, HP integrated a lot of Apollo technology into their own HP 9000 series of workstations and servers. The Apollo engineering center took over PA-RISC workstation development and Apollo became an HP workstation brand name (HP Apollo 9000) for a while. Apollo also invented the revision control system DSEE (Domain Software Engineering Environment)[4] which inspired IBM Rational ClearCase.[5] DSEE was pronounced "dizzy".

Apollo machines used a proprietary operating system, Aegis, because of the excessive cost of single CPU Unix licenses at the time of system definition. Aegis, like Unix, was based on concepts from the Multics time sharing operating system. It used the concepts of shell programming (à la Stephen Bourne), single level store, and object-oriented design. Aegis was written in a proprietary version of Pascal.

The dual 68000 processor design was to provide automatic page fault switching, with one processor acting as a watchdog, while the other executed the OS and program instructions.[citation needed] When a page fault was raised, the main CPU was halted in mid (memory) cycle while the watchdog CPU would bring the page into memory and then allow the main CPU to continue, unaware of the page fault. Later improvements in the Motorola 68010 processor obviated the need for the dual processor design.

Certain efficiencies were gained by careful design, for example, the memory page size, network packet, and disk sector were all 1K byte in size. With this arrangement a page fault could take place across the network as well as on the individual computer and Aegis file system was a single system of memory mapped files across the entire network. The name space of the network was self discovering as new nodes (workstations) were added.

Domain/OS (Distributed On-line Multi-access Interactive Network/Operating System) was initially a layer over Aegis and was not built on a Unix kernel. Release 10 incorporated large parts of Unix but the burden of backwards compatibility with previous releases led to a system that was larger and significantly slower than the previous ones. In the end, Hewlett Packard shut down the Domain/OS line. Release 10 came out as competitors were gaining ground in the area of graphics and windowing systems, particularly with the trend to open systems and the X Window System.

Another feature was its proprietary token-ring network, which was originally designed to support relatively small networks of, at most, dozens of computers in an office environment. It was a superb design, allowing direct memory access page faulting from any hard drive on the network, but it did not inter-operate with any other existing network hardware or software. The industry widely adopted Ethernet and TCP/IP, a more universal, albeit much slower network. Apollo later added support for these industry standards while continuing to support its own Domain networking using both Ethernet and Token Ring. The Domain networking was modeled after Xerox Network Systems.

The company moved from a proprietary data bus architecture in favor of IBM's AT-bus, as used in the second generation of IBM PCs, and was simultaneously embracing RISC technology moving towards high-end processors, eventually producing the PRISM line.

The workstation industry in general experienced hard times in the second half of the 1980s, as IBM Personal Computers and IBM PC compatibles began making inroads on their customer base.

Thomas Vanderslice was hired as President and CEO in 1984,[6] and founder William Poduska left the company in 1985 to found Stellar.[7]

The company incurred large losses in 1987 in currency speculation due to the trading activities of one individual,[8] and in 1988 from declining demand for its products.[9] In 1989 Apollo was acquired by Hewlett-Packard.[10]HP support for Apollo products was fragmented for the first few years, but was reorganized in late 1992, at which point there were still some 100,000 users of Apollo products and the user group IWorks (formerly InterWorks) had some 4,500 members.[11] Earlier that year, Sun had already offered discounts on its systems for customers trading in their Apollo machines;[12] HP responded the next winter by a trade-in program of its own, that also allowed trading in hardware from Sun and other vendors in return for a discount on HP workstations.[13]


Apollo Computer models
System Type Model CPU Speed (MHz) Display Release date Internal name
SAU1 DN416 2× 68000 8 Portrait Green & White
SAU1 DN100 2× 68000 8 Portrait BW
SAU1 DN400 2× 68000 8 Portrait BW
SAU1 DN600 2× 68000 8 Color
SAU1 DN420 2× 68000 8 Landscape BW
SAU2 DN300 68010 8 Landscape BW Swallow
SAU2 DN320 68010 8 Landscape BW Swallow
SAU2 DN330 68020 12 Landscape BW Swallow
SAU3 DSP80, DSP80A 68010 8 none Sparrow
SAU3 DSP90 68020 12 none Sparrow
SAU4 DN460 Custom 2900 bit slice ? BW Tern
SAU4 DN660 Custom 2900 bit slice ? Color Tern
SAU4 DSP160 Custom 2900 bit slice ? none Tern
SAU5 DN550 68010 10 VME 600 Graphics Stingray
SAU5 DN560 68020 12 VME 600 Graphics Stingray
SAU5 DN570 68020 16 Ocelot Graphics Single Card 8 plane Banshee
SAU5 DN580 68020 16 Aurora Graphics Banshee
SAU5 DN590 68020 20 Aurora Graphics Banshee
SAU6 DN560T 68020 12 Color Banshee
SAU6 DN570T 68020 16 Color Banshee
SAU6 DN580T 68020 16 Color Banshee
SAU6 DN590T 68020 20 Color Banshee
SAU7 DN3500 68030 25 BW / Color Cougar II
SAU7 DN3550 68030 25 BW / Color
SAU7 DN4000 68020 25 BW / Color Mink
SAU7 DN4500 68030 33 BW / Color Roadrunner
SAU8 DN3000 68020 12 BW / Color Otter
SAU8 DN3010, DN3010A 68020 12 BW / Color
SAU8 DN3040 68020 12 BW / Color
SAU9 DN2500 68030 20 BW / Color Frodo
SAU10 DN10000 Prism 18 BW / Color AT
SAU11 9000/425S 68040 25 Trailways
SAU11 9000/425T 68040 25 HP DIOII Strider
SAU11 9000/425E 68040 25 Woody
SAU11 9000/433S 68040 33 Trailways
SAU11 9000/433T 68040 33
SAU12 9000/400S 68030 50 Trailways
SAU12 9000/400T 68030 50 Strider
SAU12 9000/400DL 68030 50
SAU14 DN5500 68040 25 BW / Color Leopard

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Petrovsky, Mary (27 October 1986). "3Com and Apollo sign pact for net link gear". Network World. p. 7. 
  2. ^ "Market overview". InfoWorld. 1 December 1986. p. 29. 
  3. ^ "Hewlett-Packard to Buy Struggling Apollo Computer". Los Angeles Times. 13 April 1989. 
  4. ^ John A McDermid, Integrated Project Support Environments, in: Barbara A. Kitchenham (ed.), Software Engineering for Large Software Systems, Elsevier Science Publishers, 1990, p. 55
  5. ^ Paul Adams and Marvin Solomon, An overview of the CAPITL software development environment, in: Jacky Estublier (ed.), Software configuration management: selected papers / ICSE SCM-4 and SCM-5 Workshops, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg etc., p. 25
  6. ^ "Vanderslice Named President of Apollo". Boston Globe. August 3, 1984. 
  7. ^ "Poduska Will Leave Apollo To Start Firm". Boston Globe. November 15, 1985. 
  8. ^ "Apollo Says It Underestimated Loss From Unauthorized Deal". Boston Globe. October 8, 1987. 
  9. ^ Markoff, John. (July 8, 1988). "Apollo's Troubles Stun Wall St.". New York Times. 
  10. ^ "HP Seeks To Reassure Apollo Workers". Boston Globe. May 23, 1989. 
  11. ^ Johnson, Maryfran (14 September 1992). "Domain users OK latest HP support plan". Computerworld. p. 62. 
  12. ^ Johnson, Maryfran (20 July 1992). "Sun upgrade offer targets Apollo users". Computerworld. p. 8. 
  13. ^ Johnson, Maryfran (1 February 1993). "HP trade-in push". Computerworld. p. 41. 
  • This article was partly based on material from the Free On-line Dictionary of Computing and is used with permission under the GFDL.

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